On Monday, thousands of teachers stormed, stamped and chanted at the Capitol, protesting pension changes, education cuts and what they feel is the Republican majority’s general hostility toward public education.
Educators’ next steps may be more quiet, but, they hope, just as effective. On Tuesday, the Kentucky Education Association Delegate Assembly begins in Louisville where teachers will plot their next moves, including whom to support in the legislative elections in May and November.
“I think the legislature continued to get the message that we’re not going away,” said KEA President Stephanie Winkler. “We’re going to keep a watchful eye on the legislature, and we’re going to hold them accountable for doing good work for the people and children of the commonwealth.”
Winkler conceded there was some good General Assembly news out of Monday’s last-minute budget and tax reform bills, showing that legislators had heard some teacher concerns.
“We were pleased to see pensions fully funded, we were pleased to see SEEK funds starting to pick up and to see transportation funds restored,” she said. Teachers were also happy with new taxes on services that could produce new revenue in the future and the legislature’s decision not to establish a funding mechanism for charter schools that would wick money away from the public schools.
But those were offset against less training for new teachers and a hybrid cash-balance pension plan for new teachers, which includes a defined contribution plan like 401Ks with aspects of a defined benefits plan of a traditional pension. The pension changes also increase the amount of work years required for retirement.
“This was an extreme dump on the future of public education,” Winkler said. “We have done a lot of things to damage teacher recruitment and we’re going to hold them accountable for that.”
That accountability includes nearly 50 former and current educators on ballots this spring and fall who will challenge Gov. Matt Bevin’s negative comments about teachers who opposed his plans for pension reform. Winkler credits Bevin with stirring up the number of teachers and their supporters who showed up in Frankfort on Monday.
Bevin has said he is determined to save the pension system for current and future teachers and state workers from dissolution after years of underfunding by past governors and legislatures.
“He had a wide base when he first started because there was a wave with that election,” she said. “But people have seen his priorities ... he wants to do more damage to public service than help it. We’re going to choose to work for people who support and promote public schools.”
Kentucky teachers have been emboldened by strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma. While the vast majority of school districts are on spring break this week, Pike County schools were closed on Tuesday for a teacher rally in downtown Pikeville at 2 p.m, according to WYMT.
The Jefferson County Teachers Association posted a query on Facebook Tuesday afternoon to gauge interest in creating yard signs to support efforts to combat the legislative actions. They suggested: “Educated Voter — I WILL Remember in November!”
Winkler said she thinks the energy of the Frankfort rally will continue.
“I thought it was an awesome sight to behold, the unity between teachers, other labor groups, parents,” she said. “We’re not going to take being abused anymore, we are the backbone of this state ... we have a huge stake in this fight and we’re not going to give up.”